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3 Simple Tips for Teaching Shakespeare

3 simple tips for teaching shakespeare

Are you a homeschooling parent who is considering leading your student (or students) through a study of Shakespeare? Maybe you’re excited to get started, but  you’re also feeling nervous because he is, you know, Shakespeare: the father of Western poetry and drama, the guy whose plays are taught in every contemporary schoolroom. No pressure.

As someone who loves Shakespeare, studied his works in graduate school, and has tutored students in his plays and poetry, I’m going to make a guilty confession to you: I have totally “zoned out” while reading Shakespeare. I’ve done it more than once. As wonderful as his language is, it happens with antiquate language…unless you have a strategy. In today’s post, I want to share 3 tips that I’ve discovered which have helped me stay focused on, and therefore find a lot of enjoyment in, Shakespeare’s works.  If you feel like you need a little guidance, or a little more focus, while getting started with “The Bard”, I hope these tips help you out!

1. Grab Some Popcorn and Put on a Movie

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Shakespeare’s works, especially his plays, weren’t really meant to be read silently. They were meant to be watched.  The first thing you can do when reading/ teaching a Shakespeare play is to conjure up  strong visuals to accompany your reading.  Having a visual not only helps show us more clearly the meaning behind Shakespeare’s language, it also shows us that the characters in these plays are not very different from ourselves. One of the reasons that Shakespeare is still so famous today is that his characters capture the full scope of human experiences: they address, from birth to death, all of the major emotions and conflicts that arise in a person’s life.  Thanks to the dozens of films which depict Shakespeare’s works, almost anyone can experience these depictions in action.  Take advantage of this and watch some movies.

I would especially suggest checking out film versions which leave as much of the original rhetoric intact as possible while portraying the tale within a modern or creative setting, such as: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012), Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Kenneth Brannaugh’s Hamlet (1996).   I recommend this type of adaptation because it can act as inspiration for creating your own unique visual landscape. At the same time, you are getting to see how Shakespeare’s original words were meant to be read, with the proper power, intonations, and emotions to channel them. So grab some popcorn and watch a movie!

2. Read for Themes

Create a connection with a Shakespearean through focusing on his themes, and then looking at how more specific passages support and discuss those themes.  To start out with this approach, you will need to do a little secondary source research. Discover what “big questions and ideas” scholars have pondered over for the particular work you are reading and keep them in mind as you read. This can help you to focus on Shakespeare’s wording and insight.

For instance, if you are reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you might do a little reading on the theme of “the rashness of love.” This play contains several examples of the unwieldiness of love and the crazy things it makes us do.  With that theme already in mind, let’s say you come across the following lines of the play from Act 5, Scene 1.  “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains/Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.” Because you will realize that these lines speak directly about a crucial theme in the play, you can spend a little time on them to think about what Shakespeare is saying and how he is saying it Sometimes the proper context is all you need to be able to focus in on lines like this, which can seem crisply insightful and fresh, even centuries after they were written.

3. Consider the Sound

As you discover the universality of the characters and the themes, another thing you can do to create an interactive Shakespeare experience is to learn to appreciate the sound of his writing. Shakespeare was a master of iambic pentameter, a pattern that most of his writing follows.Iambic pentameter means a pattern of five “iambic feet,” each containing an unstressed/stressed syllable which flows like “baBUM.” Therefore, the beat of, “baBUMbaBUMbaBUMbaBUMbaBUM,” is similar to the rhythm of most of Shakespeare’s writing.

Once you’ve got a grasp on the pattern, read some of the lines you are studying aloud to yourself and see if you hear it in the flow of the words.  Try this with your student. Can she tap the iambic beat of a line while reading it aloud? You might be surprised by how getting involved involved in the sound of the language can connect you to it in a new way.

Once you (and your student) are comfortable with reading in meter and hearing the beat of Shakespeare’s words, you can really start to get “fancy,” with your Shakespeare discussions by beginning to think about how meaning and sound come together.  How?  Look for places where the language breaks the pattern. For example, are there lines that, when read aloud, throw the beat off? Are they just a little too short, too long, or forcibly crammed together?

Considering Shakespeare as a master of both poetry and a playwrighting, ask yourself and your student why he might have decided to change the flow at that point.  How does the music alter to the storytelling? Even today, Shakespeare sets the bar for the deliberate interaction between meter and meaning.  In asking these kinds of questions about his text, you are not only exploring the study Shakespeare, but also the art of poetry itself.

Actor Craig Wallace said of performing Shakespeare: “It’s not easy. When we get it and convey it, it’s a beautiful thing for us and it’s a beautiful thing for the audience to hear. And that’s why Shakespeare endures.”

Today, as readers and teachers of Shakespeare, we have a similar challenge, though the play we perform is mental.  Getting past the language differences may be difficult, yet there is beauty in the discovery that Shakespeare’s characters and stories are still relevant today. The music in his language and words also allows each generation to breathe new life into his work every time it is read. It’s a valuable experience and a beautiful one to share through teaching.

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10 Tips to Help Your Struggling Reader

10 tips to help your struggling reader
young boy trying to learn to read

Do you have a struggling reader? Whether you’re teaching a young child to read or helping a middle-schooler (or even a high-schooler) who has reading difficulties, it can be very stressful for both mom/teacher and child/student to deal with reading problems. However, don’t give up! There are several things you can do to lessen the stress and to help your struggling reader.

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Sometimes we get so excited about homeschooling and teaching our children that we simply start doing formal schooling earlier than we should. You may want to read this article called Is Your Child Ready to Learn to Read? These 10 Tips Can Help You Find Out! for more information on determining if your child is ready to learn to read.

If you read tip #1 and reached the conclusion that maybe your child isn’t quite ready to learn to read, you can still enhance your child’s love of reading in a very simple way–read aloud! Reading aloud to your children – whether they read for themselves or not – is a wonderful way to give them great associations with reading.  In addition to showing your kids that reading is fun, it can also create wonderful bonding time, help build vocabulary, and enhance their ability to imagine visual scenes to go with the words. All of these things help create readers.

The child who enjoys reading sticks with reading. If you have a struggling reader, you may have frequently observed him getting frustrated or overwhelmed when trying to tackle large portions of reading.  One thing you can do to make it easier on both of you is to re-adjust your goals. Are you asking your child to read something that is simply too difficult? Or could you ask him to read smaller amounts each day? While it can seem counter-intuitive to set smaller goals, sometimes that is what is needed to give your child the sense of success that he needs to feel encouraged instead of discouraged.

Before you begin the day’s reading lesson, tell your child the goal that she’s working toward. After the lesson each day, be sure to point out progress she made toward the goal that day. This also helps to encourage her and lets her know that you, the parent, are paying attention and that you’re proud of each effort she made!

If your child reads slowly, that’s okay! Instead of trying to urge him to read faster, have patience. Speed and fluency often come with time and practice. Additionally, these are things that you can model (without pointing out you are doing so) as you read aloud. Pointing out slow reading won’t help–it will only discourage.

If your child struggles with reading, you may need to have him practice the same words or stories over and over and over. It’s okay. Repetition helps to “cement” the information in his mind. Try to keep it fun, though, so he doesn’t get bored!

Try telling the story in funny voices or even acting it out to keep things exciting! One idea that can be really fun is to turn some of the words in the story into a “script” and act it out by making a video or performing a puppet show, etc. Get creative!

After your child learns short vowels and 1-syllable words and can read them easily, then you can move on to long vowels. Most phonics programs do this for you, but it is something to keep in mind if you supplement or come up with your own practice words and sentences. A great series that starts out with short vowel sounds is The Bob Books!

Or, if you have a child who wants to learn to read and doesn’t want a fancy or colorful curriculum, he might enjoy learning to read using Alpha Phonics. My son (even when he was very young) simply wanted to quickly learn to read. He wasn’t interested in games or activities to make the process more fun. For that reason, I tried using Alpha Phonics with him. It was inexpensive and no-nonsense, and it was perfect for him! Very simply, it’s a book of word lists that takes your child through the process of learning short vowels (and long vowels later on), combining them with consonants, and continuing to build until he can read.

Make sure you allow your child to use all of her senses when she’s learning to read. Some children learn best by seeing, some by hearing, some by touching things or doing things. Using a multi-sensory approach allows your child to use different senses, and that often increases learning and makes it more fun too! For example, you could use blocks to build words (using the child’s sense of touch), or play a sound game in the car, “What letters says ‘mmmmm’?” You could also finger paint words or build them with magnetic letters on the fridge. There are all sorts of ways to make this a multi-sensory process!

If you want to find out more about your child’s learning style, click here to read this article. You’ll find out more about your child’s learning style and how to meet his or her needs as you homeschool.

This is definitely one of the most important things to remember when teaching reading; it has to be interesting! If your struggling reader isn’t interested in the books or sentences you use in his instruction, he’s just not going to be very motivated to want to learn to read! Try to find books about topics that he particularly enjoys!

And if books are intimidating to your child, have him or her read whatever looks interesting! Magazines, comic books, or even cereal boxes will work in the beginning. Some parents steer away from books based on movies or television shows that a child likes, but I say go for it. If that’s what it takes to get your child interested in learning to read, it’s worth it! It may also be helpful because a familiar (and beloved) topic may help him better visualize the material and therefore learn more easily.

It’s often best to begin with a book that is below your child’s current reading level. That allows her to have some success with reading. Then slowly progress to more difficult books. By doing this, she will be more motivated to learn to read, and motivation can make a big difference! If possible, you don’t want reading to be a chore.

It’s much better to start out easy and move slowly than to turn reading into a dreaded activity. Basically, success encourages more success! With reading, what you really want is to build your child’s enjoyment! Once a child learns to love reading, the rest tends to take care of itself.

If you feel like your child may have a problem such as dyslexia or some other kind of learning difference, physical problem (such as a vision problem), behavior issue, etc., that is causing him/her to have difficulty learning to read, it is important to see a doctor for help. There are treatments and therapies for problems with reading whether they are related to a learning difference, vision problem, or possibly even a behavior problem or some other kind of issue.

Do you have any tips for those who are teaching struggling readers? If so, please share them here! We would love to hear from you!

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10 Holiday Reads for Kids of All Ages

10 holiday reads for kids of all ages scaled

Most homeschooling families take some time off from studying for the holidays, but that doesn’t mean we stop reading! In winter, there’s nothing as relaxing as curling up with a soft blanket and a good book.

10 Holiday Reads for Kids of All Ages |Hip Homeschool Moms

If you are looking for a way to encourage your kids to read this December, consider giving them an early present: a book that will contribute to the ambiance of the season’s festivities. From toddlers to teens, here are 10 holiday reads for each of the kids on your list!

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1. Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck and Felicia Bond

Featuring bright colors, rhyming meter and simple language, this short nativity story can be enjoyed by even the  smallest children. This story is also  available as a board book, so infants and toddlers can handle it themselves without tearing pages. New readers may also enjoy reading it aloud for the rest of the family. Best for ages 0+!

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2. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

This classic poem is an integral holiday tradition for many families. It’s short enough to read several times during the Christmas season, but complex enough to keep older children interested, too. Several versions are exquisitely illustrated, adding interest for younger children. This book canreally  be introduced at any age, though children between 5-10 might enjoy it the most.

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3. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien  

Most people know J.R.R.Tolkien for his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy, but this little gem is far less recognized. Letters from Father Christmas documents a tradition between Tolkien and his children, who received annual “letters” from Santa. Readers of this collection can appreciate Tolkien’s creativity, thoughtfulness and beautiful artwork. Because the stories are divided into letters, this work can also be read as part of advent. While this one is great for young children (5 and up), older children, teens and adults  will enjoy it, too!
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4. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel 

This Hanukkah-inspired fairy tale presents themes of the holiday in a delightful, creative way. When Goblins threaten to extinguish the celebration of Hanukkah, Hershel must outwit them  to keep the candles burning and give hope to the other villagers. This children’s tale is a Caldecott Honor book and is beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. This story could make a great gift for any young child who is learning about Hanukkah. It is recommended for ages 5 and up.

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5. The Nutcracker

Do you have a dancer in the family? E.T.A. Hoffman’s  story, which inspired the classic ballet, could make a perfect holiday read! The story holds all the holiday whimsy of the ballet, but with much greater detail. The original version is probably best-suited to children who are confident readers, from  9-10+.  However, it can also be a good book to read with younger children who are open to learning new vocabulary. The illustrated version done by Maurice Sendak is simply gorgeous!

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6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

For the kid in your life who loves stories loaded with heart and humor, this book has it all. This classic tale of a family of outcasts who “crash” the annual Christmas pageant will have your child flipping pages, laughing and thinking some pretty deep thoughts about how to treat others this season. This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

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7. Greenhouse Glass by Kate Milford

This whimsical read is sure to delight curious minds. Part mystery, part character-study, all fun, Kate Milford’s Greenhouse Glass portrays the adventures of two children in the Greenhouse Glass Inn over winter vacation. This cozy, insightful novel was a New York Times Bestseller and is recommended for ages 10-12.

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8. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

Any fantasy lovers on your list? This novel by Susan Cooper follows Will, an unlikely protagonist, on a magical journey filled with destiny, darkness and light. Will’s story takes place during “the twelve days of Christmas,” adding a festive layer to the tale’s epic themes. Added plus? This novel is the first of an entire series, The Dark is Rising Sequence.  A Newberry Honor book, The Dark is Rising is appropriate for pre-teens and teens.

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9. The Christmas Carol Graphic Novel adapted by Sean Michael Wilson

Who doesn’t know Charles Dickens’ classic story? This season, consider giving the teen (or pre-teen) in your life a new way to experience it.  The Christmas Carol Graphic Novel contains much of the original story text, but delivers it in typical comic book fashion.  You could give it to the comic-lover in your family by itself, or alongside a copy of the original (which is also a great choice, of course, for older kids and teens!)

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10. Let it Snow: Short Stories by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle

Let it Snow  is a fun collection of holiday tales by some of today’s most-beloved names in YA fiction.  There’s love, angst, empowerment, and a whole lot of laughs. Furthermore, each of these stories retains its unique voice while also weaving together in connected plots and themes. Buy this one for the teenager on your list who loves romance, humor and snowstorms.

We hope this list gives you some inspiration for books that your kids will enjoy reading this holiday season. If you’re particularly interested in picture books, you may also want to check out this printable list of 30  Days of Christmas Picture Books!  Also, feel free to add to this list with a comment below. What is something your family likes to read together this time of year? Do you have any children or teen book recommendations for Christmas, Hanukkah  or  just winter in general?